Developing a universal pay-per-view brand, creating closer
ties with Hollywood and obtaining popular PPV sports packages and premiere event
programming are among the initiatives on Viewer's Choice president Mindy Herman's plate as
she attempts to position the network and the industry for the new millennium.
After just three months as president of the largest PPV
network, Herman has already spearheaded several initiatives that she hopes will further
establish the network as the leader in the PPV industry.
In a wide-ranging interview with Multichannel News,
Herman said one of Viewer's Choice's major mandates is to develop a national PPV brand
that would encompass both the analog and digital PPV business.
The network, under the auspices of new senior vice
president of marketing/brand director Gavin Harvey, is working with affiliates to have a
new brand in place shortly.
"I'm very excited about this initiative because I
think it's long overdue for the industry to be able to market and do promotions on a DMA
and, ultimately, a national basis," she said. "Also, to be able to have channel
lineups that can be in the newspapers and magazines and that create a uniform look and
feel can only increase buy-rates for us."
To prepare for such an effort, the network recently unified
its analog and digital channel lineups. "Once you start from that single base of
programming, then you start to be creative to add to the convenience, the features and the
benefits that the additional transponders of PPV will allow you to achieve," she
Herman also wants to improve relationships with Hollywood
and members of the creative community, who still don't totally respect and understand PPV.
"In many people's minds in Hollywood, PPV is something
that they don't understand," she said. "I think with our expansion into digital,
providing more opportunity to be a more significant revenue stream to Hollywood, their
understanding in respect to what PPV has to offer will grow."
With that in mind, the network will open an office in Los
Angeles this summer headed by senior vice president of programming Michael Klein.
"Having a presence in Los Angeles will allow us to
reach out to the broader creative community as we move past the traditional categories of
movies and boxing and wrestling events. It will allow us to work with different producers
and providers that we heretofore have not really developed a relationship with
before," Herman said.
The move will also allow the network to work more closely
with studios on the ever-widening PPV-windows issue. Herman said the network is
"actively involved" with studios over the windows issue, and it hopes to have
some compromise by the end of the year.
"Unfortunately, over the past 12 to 18 months, the
windows have gotten significantly worse. In order to grow this business and to reap the
benefits that digital NVOD [near-video-on-demand] and VOD are going to offer, we are going
to have to find a way to at the very least get back to where we were only a couple of
years ago, and then to shorten the windows," she said.
Although Viewer's Choice has paid guarantees for early
PPV-movie windows on at least two titles, Herman said, the tactic is not good for the
industry going forward.
Unlike the pay TV, broadcast and basic-cable networks,
which have anywhere from 15 months to two years to distribute a movie, the PPV window is
only 60 to 90 days. Further slicing that window to make room for guarantee-laden early
windows reduces PPV's value to the studio and the operator.
"The analog business remains an important business
and, from a revenue standpoint, splitting those windows costs studios money and operators
money," she said.
The analog business remains a priority for Viewer's Choice,
which is clearly positioning itself for the multichannel-PPV digital environment.
Herman believes there will always be some form of analog in
cable homes, and the network must be able to serve as many PPV formats as are available.
"If we remove the analog business entirely before
there's universal distribution of digital, the ability to reach customers to talk about
the product that will be coming to them as digital subscribers will be lost," Herman
"Having operators focusing their attentions on the
launch of digital is the best thing that has happened to this business since its
inception," she added. "To the extent that the operators can still focus a
portion of their time, the analog business will have a multiplier effect in terms of the
benefit on the business. But our future lies in digital."
The future for the industry is also in VOD, which Herman
believes operators will experiment with more as technology costs continue to drop.
"We will work MSOs to program their servers and to create the same types of marketing
tactics that are unique to the VOD environment," she said.
A major component of digital programming could come from
the professional-sports leagues via out-of-market packages. Herman feels that Viewer's
Choice will eventually bring those popular packages, as well as other exclusive events, to
"It's clearly a major goal of Viewer's Choice to level
the competitive playing field between cable and [direct-broadcast satellite services]. But
that's just a first step. We actually want to begin to differentiate the cable product
with other product," Herman said.
"To that end, we're in discussions with a whole host
of content suppliers in areas that DirecTV is currently programming -- and in other areas,
like kids' and women's programming, urban programming and multicam sports product -- that
can help us to begin to differentiate from DirecTV," she added.